Massive Multiple Input/Multiple Output (mMIMO) is a cornerstone of 5G as it provides the extra capacity needed to meet the growing data demands. According to a report by ABI Research, the number of mMIMO deployments is expected to reach 32mn by 2026 from 2mn as of last year.
The rise, the report claims, is due to the acceleration of 5G rollouts. Global mobile data traffic is expected to grow at a six-year Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 97%, reaching 1331 exabytes in 2025, up from 23 exabytes in 2019. This increase in traffic is driving mobile operators to accelerate 5G rollouts, with Massive Multiple Input/Multiple Output (mMIMO) as a key enabler.
Fei Liu, 5G & Mobile Network Infrastructure Industry Analyst at ABI Research, said: “"There are two Massive MIMO configurations in primary use, 64T64R massive MIMO, mainly deployed in very dense urban areas, and 32T32R which has a capacity sufficient for urban and suburban areas. Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) need both 64T64R and 32T32R mMIMO to build the best possible 5G networks.
64T64R offers higher capacity and coverage compared to 32T32R, but it is more energy consuming and expensive which affects operators' Return of Investment (ROI). It also presents size and weight issues. Therefore, operators are a deploying a mix of 64T64R and 32T32R massive MIMO, depending on the scenario, ABI Research claims.
"However, with ongoing innovation on both hardware and software, 64T64R is expected to reduce energy, cost, weight, and size. Eventually, 64T64R will become the future deployment trend as operators continue to increase the quality of service," Liu added.
Increasing mMIMO performance influenced by accelerated 5G rollouts
The acceleration of 5G rollouts has led to increased emphasis on the performance of mMIMO. Vendors such as Ericsson, Nokia, Huawei, and ZTE are actively investing in both hardware and software innovations including better chipsets, new materials/structure, and AI/ML-based energy saving algorithms to offer high-performing massive MIMO.
In terms of massive MIMO deployments, there are regional differences. For example, the United States is actively deploying 64T64R while Japan, South Korea, and Europe are in favor of 32T32R. In China, 32T32R is the current trend, although operators were deploying 64T64R initially (pre-2021). 64T64R is expected to be the future trend, however, its deployment may be delayed in the next two to three years. The market forecast of 5G massive MIMO will be led by Asia-Pacific due to the large adoption of 5G in China, Japan, and South Korea.
To solve this, Liu recommends that "operators should deploy the new generation of massive MIMO to improve the quality of service, reduce energy cost, and help speed up commercialisation of new technologies by collaborating with vendors to run more tests to better understand the practical performance.”